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By Sierra Bourne

Cookiepocolypse: A New Beginning?

Another existential threat? In the form of cookies??

You might be picturing cookies raining from the sky, à la Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, or maybe your cookie catastrophe features a giant, fuzzy blue Cookie Monster raging through the city. If you’re a digital marketer, you’re probably imagining a less fantastical, potentially jobless dystopia. 

Cookies, for the non-nerds, are little bundles of HTML code that track what a user does on their device across websites, and they’re fundamental to how we have come to know the present-day internet. Websites use first-party cookies to identify and remember their customers’ actions on the site. These cookies are the less controversial of the cookie jar because most website visitors don’t mind that their Wayfair cart still has the 27 rugs saved from last week’s browsing. We’ve even come to expect a certain level of personalization from our e-commerce experience. Third-party cookies, the focus of the cookiepocalypse, are the double-stuffed Oreos shamefully shoved to the back of the pantry that digital marketers sneak in the wee hours of the night. Unlike first-party cookies that are only visible to the specific website that set them, third-party cookies are capable of storing values that apply to multiple websites. They follow visitors through the web, tracking our every click and conversion, and they are essential to the micro-targeted digital advertising that has become so prevalent in modern media plans. 

Ah, yes, the cookiepocalypse is looming. In 2022, Google will begin phasing out support for third-party cookies, and in Apple’s latest software update, iPhone and iPad users will now encounter pop-ups in the apps they use, asking whether they want to allow the app “to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites.” These announcements follow the overall trend towards a more private internet. CCPA, GDPR, and others are just the first of web privacy regulations sweeping the globe. So while Google and Apple’s decision is potentially detrimental for some digital marketers, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Privacy concerns amongst consumers are growing, with 79% of Americans concerned about how their data is being used. The internet, originally a platform for genuine human connection and global interaction, has become inhumane through the commodification of our data, which, by the way, is incredibly profitable. We are now the product, and sans privacy protections, we’re being sold without our permission to advertisers in the form of personal data.

But are we really supposed to believe that Silicon Valley sweethearts are limiting third-party data tracking for the good of the people? Why do they suddenly care about privacy, and what’s in it for them? While Chrome’s absence of cookies and Apple’s new privacy policy will block marketers from tracking user behavior across various websites and platforms, they’ll still be able to collect data to their heart’s content within each platform. That means Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other tech-giants will now be the only outlets for digital marketers to indulge their addiction to micro-targeting. Mark Zuckerberg even acknowledged this advantage in a recent statement addressing Facebook’s feud with Apple where he boasted that, “It’s possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple’s changes encourage more businesses to conduct more commerce on our platforms by making it harder for them to use their data in order to find the customers that would want to use their products outside of our platforms.” And so the rich get richer and advertising power becomes even more consolidated.

Since the mid-90s when Netscape invented the cookie and advertisers’ dependence on hyper-targeted digital campaigns has grown unsustainably, it’s our humble opinion that advertising has gotten a bit lazy. The ability to micro-target your customer has resulted in sky-high conversion rates, allowing marketers to slack on the creative side. Why put in the time and money to build a sturdy brand and make great campaigns when many e-commerce companies seem to be doing just fine with their templated, stock image Facebook campaigns? While these types of BOFU ads may benefit from impulsive and transactional sales, they aren’t doing anything to help brands build real staying power. This requires exceptional and honest creative that resonates with people emotionally. The most successful campaigns have always been the ones that cut through the noise with the ability to go viral and reach all audiences. 

Less cookies means more creativity. That’s fine by us.

By Sierra Bourne